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Juneteenth

June 15, 2008 1 comment

I know it’s a few days early, but I felt the desire to write this today. Sitting at Mass today, I had the opportunity to listen to my dad, who is a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church, preach the homily. It was not the first time I’ve heard my dad preach, but being Father’s Day, today’s homily made me more proud than normal to call this man my father. During his homily, he spoke on Father’s Day. He shared that he regretted not having had the chance to tell his father how he appreciated the many life lessons given him. Now I’ve heard this from dad a million times growing up, but somehow this was a little more personal to me, even though several hundred other people were hearing it at the same time. Perhaps the fact that I am now a dad make me that much more appreciative of all the sacrifices he made to give me a better life. He said he thanks God everyday for the fact that granddad made certain that dad knew about his grandfather who had died before dad was born. He told him that Abner Barrett was born a slave and that at about age 8, slavery ended. I say about 8, because he didn’t know his exact date of birth, or for that matter who his parents were because they had been sold away. He apparently was fortunate enough to have a fairly kind master, who’s name we carry to this day as our own, that he stayed on for several years afterward. Now my great grandfather was freed in June, 1865. That is an important date as it turns out. You see, my Abner lived in Texas and even though the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves effective January 1, 1863, slaves in Texas were not freed until Union Generals arrived in Galveston, TX and took possession and freed the slaves on June 19, 1865. Apparently, the slaves in Texas were not told of their new freedom for two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. June 19th became known as Juneteenth or Emancipation Day and is celebrated to this day in many states. So if, on June 19th, someone says to you, “Happy Juneteenth,” now you know why.

As my father does, so I also thank God for my father telling me stories such as this about our family, because sadly, this is a part of our history that does not get the coverage it deserves in many of our childrens’ classrooms. I cannot recall ever having been taught about Juneteenth, while growing up in my suburban Maryland classrooms in either public or parochial schools. Much of the history of African Americans I, and most other black children of my generation, received came not in the classrooms, but rather in our own homes from people like my father who understood just how important it is for us to always remember where we came from so that we might better appreciate where we go. As the parent of a four year old girl, who will grow up in a vastly different world from the one my father or even I did, I have some very big shoes to fill as I try to instill in her a sense of our family’s and the larger African American family’s history in this country.